Today we have a new Spotlight – Christian Tropiano. Christian hails from Pickering and we got the chance to chat with him about his newest release Handshake. We talk about his process and what its like in the Covid world we are in right now. Check out what he has to say.
You have been playing guitar since 6 and started writing as a teenager. What got you started in music?
My Dad is a musician, so guitars were always within reach while I was growing up. I was interested in playing, and he encouraged me to act on my curiosity. My parents were never the kind to pressure me into doing or not doing something, so learning the guitar was a fun and organic process. Writing songs was the natural next step after emulating what other artists were doing. I’ve always felt the need to express myself through writing, and I’m grateful that I have instruments and a solid foundation of musical influences to help me achieve that expression.
You have several different styles that layer on top of each other to create your vibe. What are some artists that influenced you growing up?
It’s hard to shortlist the artists that influence my playing and writing because there are so many. If I think of who influenced “Handshake” the most, my mind chooses D’Angelo, Pink Floyd, and especially John Mayer. When I was 14 or 15, I remember going to a friend’s house and his family was watching John’s concert film “Where the Light Is” in the living room. I walked in as the John Mayer Trio launched into “Who Did You Think I Was”, and I was instantly hooked. I became obsessed with his playing and writing, both of which sculpted my own. Other friends I met in high school that shared that obsession and have since met many more. Studying John’s career is its own masterclass in music. I don’t think “Handshake” would be what it is without his influence.
Who are some artists you are in to right now?
I revisit artists I love in a cyclical way. I tend to listen to a given album every day for a few weeks, then let it go until it’s time again. What’s in season for me right now is “Illmatic” by Nas, “The Slow Rush” by Tame Impala, and “Black Messiah” by D’Angelo. I’ve been into some new artists too, like LØLØ – another Toronto local. Her newest single makes me feel nostalgic for the pop punk I grew up on, and her cover of “Dancing in the Dark” by Bruce Springsteen is a great interpretation. I’ve also been into Ingrid Andress lately. A friend of mine showed me “More Hearts Than Mine”, and it absolutely floored me. The writing is perfect.
Your father is South American, what was it like growing up in a multinational household? How do you think that influenced your writing and sound?
He’s part Sicilian (where I get my last name) and part Venezuelan, and my Mom was born in Canada to Serbian parents. Growing up with their mixture of rich culture influenced everything about me, and my music is no exception. I’m a naturally observant person, and seeing so many different traits, practices, and belief systems within a small immediate family reinforced that part of myself.
It helps me see multiple sides of people, and I think it’s part of the reason why I don’t listen to just one genre of music. It’s also the reason why I like writing all kinds of songs. I’ll write a heavy rock song with distorted electric guitars, and the next day I might write a laidback love song on a nylon string guitar. Being a versatile writer is a blessing and a curse. It’s tough to settle on one sound when there are so many that I genuinely love playing. Luckily, these days it seems like most people don’t listen to just one genre. On top of that, modern pop songs are built on funk, rock, folk, R&B… the list goes on. I love that musicians and listeners alike are so open minded.
What was the music scene like in Pickering when you first got started, vs now?
There must be something in the water in Pickering, Ontario. I shared high school music classes with extraordinarily talented musicians, many of whom went on to become professional producers, session musicians, and song writers. Not to mention locals like Shawn Mendes and Boi-1da. It’s really inspiring to know that Shawn Mendes is an international act, and that he was (and still is) just a kid from Pickering. I see so much of myself in his story, and it keeps me motivated to pursue this career. I can’t say that there’s ever been much of a live music scene in Pickering. If there was, I wasn’t aware of it. It could be because I was too young to be a part of it, but the live stuff really happens in Toronto. I’d like to see Pickering embrace the incredible talent that calls the city home.
Have you made the move yet to Toronto, or are you staying in Pickering?
I’m still in Pickering. The rent prices in Toronto are astronomical (as anyone from Toronto or the GTA can attest to) and I haven’t made the move yet. Toronto feels like home, and I drive in to work in the city almost every day. Wherever life takes me, I hope a part of myself stays rooted in Toronto and Pickering, at least mentally. I have a feeling it will. Pickering is such a unique suburb (is that an oxymoron?) and it’s hard to describe if you didn’t grow up here. You can take the boy out of Pickering…
‘Handshake’ is your first EP and for many people their first intro to your music. How would you describe your sound? What do you think sets it apart from other musicians?
I like to think I let the listener decide what genre they hear when they listen to my songs. There are influences of pop, rock, folk, and R&B, but the songs aren’t any of those genres entirely. I recorded “Handshake” in a studio that captured everything analog first, and then made it digital, so the sound is really organic. A guitar sounds like a guitar, my vocals sound like I’m actually singing, and drums sound live and perfectly imperfect. I love modern production, and I’ll probably explore it more in the near future, but I think the organic and raw approach I took with “Handshake” lends itself to the songs really well.
What is something about recording an EP that no one prepared you for?
How loooong things take. I understood that recording an EP would be a time-consuming and lengthy process – especially since I wasn’t doing music full time – but I didn’t quite understand what that meant. When you’re working a job, you can only have so many recording sessions per week. Then you’re working within factors like the studio’s availability, musicians’ availability, the time it takes to mix and master, etc, and suddenly many more months than you expected have gone by. I’ve definitely learned a ton from recording “Handshake” and my writing and recording process has already become more streamlined.
What would you have done differently / Wished you knew before?
Sometimes I wish I knew more about how to “play the studio”. I knew about production, but not as much as I’d have liked. I understand that learning about recording techniques is a never-ending process, just like writing and performing the music itself. I’ve since been much more diligent about learning the production side of music. That being said, I can’t knock myself too hard, it was my first serious recording project after all.
I am torn between 2 tracks as my standout. ‘Cape Town’ or ‘Try Out For Heaven’. Can you tell us a bit more about those tracks?
I love that those two stood out to you! “Cape Town” was the first song I recorded for the EP. ‘’Cape Town’’ is a metaphor for a kind of mental safehouse that shelters me from anxiety and depression. I think everyone has that place they go to mentally when they feel overwhelmed. The metaphor is then anchored in a breakup story.
Although I don’t wish that kind of thing on anyone, I hope anyone that has gone through something similar – and anyone that has their own Cape Town – relates to this song in a healthy way. “Try Out For Heaven” is completely fictional. It’s basically four minutes of the character in the song self-loathing after he cheats on his partner. Musically, it’s arguably the most accessible song on “Handshake”, and I loved writing about someone, and something completely made up rather than writing about myself. It was also really fun to write and record, and I love performing it.
It must have felt strange to release an album in late 2020, no fanfare or launch party? What made you decide to release when you did?
I had put together a band to play an album release party in March of 2020. Our first rehearsal was set for the week of the first lockdown. What I thought was just a postponed rehearsal turned into the reality of not being able to play any shows, let alone an album release party. I originally planned on a summer release, and when that wasn’t possible, I thought I could probably just wait until the pandemic was over.
We all thought and hoped this would be over by now, but here we are almost a year later. In the end, I’m glad I decided to just put the EP out regardless of the pandemic. So much of music promotion happens online any way these days. Although nothing beats a live show, I’m really grateful to have the tools to live stream, promote the album, and continue making and sharing music.
Obviously 2020 being the way it was, what was your experience like playing online shows?
It was really great overall. I don’t have a lot of followers. When I start an Instagram live video, I might see 30 people watching if I’m lucky. But I’ve learned it’s not all about the numbers. It’s really great to just start a concert and give people the choice to casually watch for as long as they like. I also got to perform some unreleased songs, which I may not have done at live shows so close to a release. Also, because people get to comment during your set, it’s really fun and interesting to give the audience a voice during a performance. Aside from cheering or booing, the performer never really knows what their audience is thinking and feeling, so it was cool to talk to people while I played for them. All things considered, streaming versus playing live is a compromise that’s more than fair.
Given the start and stop route we are dealing with regarding reopening and touring, how difficult is it for you as a performer to plan ahead?
Luckily, songwriting never gets more complicated than just writing a song. My plan is to work on my craft as much as possible while we’re all in a state of not knowing what’s happening next week. It would be amazing to also have the ability to book shows, but it’s also been a unique opportunity to be more productive and creative than I’ve ever been.
On a lighter note, how is Halo, your dog, doing?
He’s in a perpetual state of bliss, and he radiates that energy toward everyone he interacts with. He’s a two-year-old Samoyed, and he’s been loving the winter weather lately. It’s hard to get him home from a walk most times. He lays and rolls around in the snow on people’s lawns. He’s extremely affectionate and playful. Honestly, he’s so good for my mental health. I really want him to become a therapy dog when the pandemic is over.
If a fan can take away anything from this interview, what is one thing you wish that people knew about you?
If I could only choose one thing, it’s that I’ll be making music for the rest of my life, regardless of whether I see commercial success. I do this for me, and I do it for the love of it. I hope that spirit finds its way into my music, and if it does, I hope you can tell. I’ll be here no matter what, and you’ll always be able to find new music from me.
What are your coping mechanisms that are helping you stay focused this winter that you would suggest to people this winter? And you cannot cheat and say music!
Can I cheat and say Halo? He really is a Samoyed-sized Advil. If I can’t cheat and have to choose something else, I’d probably say establishing and sticking to a routine every day, or at least as much as possible. Historically I’m pretty easy-going. Making sure I have set times to do things that are good for me is really important to my well-being. I’m a morning person that sucks at mornings. I’m just so bad at getting out of bed early if I don’t have to. Making sure I get a good sleep and getting up around the same time every day helps me stay focused during the winter. Even though I love skiing, I’m definitely a summer person.
Lastly our favorite independent and smaller businesses have been hit hard this Covid season. What are some of your local favorite places to hype up and give a shout out to?
I love grabbing take out from The Roti Spot here in Pickering – the curry chicken is amazing. Also everything at Sakura Sushi tastes great, especially the green dragon roll. It’s actually in the same plaza as The Roti Spot, so no excuses not to check these places out!
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